Is that child just “acting up” or is it trauma?

I believe that every child is a gift. I especially agree with my own three children. They have been an amazing blessing in my life and I am so proud to be their mum.

Nothing in life really prepares you to be a parent. Sure when you are pregnant you can read all of the parenting help books or talk to health nurses, but really you are never quite prepared when that little baby is placed in your arms. Suddenly you realize that no one, but you is responsible for this living and breathing little person. It’s life depends on you. Wow what a profound moment that was for me.

As a parent I have always wanted the best for my children. It is hard when life and what you want doesn’t always match up. My oldest was born in 2001 and for the first 9 years of her life we lived with her father. Unfortunately for her, her younger siblings and myself their father was an abuser. Abuse of many forms was prevalent throughout our house and this affected each of my children in different ways. We have dealt with PTSD diagnoses, OCD tendencies, nightmares, wetting of beds, soiling of pants, disassociation, violent outbursts and yes some substance abuse. None of this is what I wanted for them. It has been heartbreaking as a mum to watch my children struggle and it has been debilitating to them at various times of their life. This is definitely not the life I wanted for my children.

Despite all of the trials my children and I have always been a team. I have let them know from the moment that they were born that I will always be there for them. With every cry in the night  to cheering them on at their band concert at school I have been there.  I have worked hard to be their safety and their constant despite the turbulent beginning years of their life. When my ex and I finally separated, my kids and I shared my Queen size bed for months. We all had our spot on the bed and perhaps it was not the most comfortable of sleeps as we all crammed in, but we were together, we were safe and that was the most important thing.

Kids experience trauma in different ways than an adult. For one their brains are still developing so trauma affects their brain development. Children also have different ways then adults on how they express their trauma. If you have an infant, toddler or a preschooler you may observe;

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Disturbances in feeding
  • Feelings of helplessness and passivity
  • Generalized fearfulness
  • Specific new fears
  • Loss of or regression in recently acquired skills like walking, talking or potty training.
  • Clinginess and separation anxiety.
  • Inhibited play
  • Thinking or talking about the event
  • Upset at reminders or avoiding reminders of the event.
  • Irritability
  • Agressiveness
  • Scanning for danger
  • Easily startled

If you have school age children you might observe;

  • Posttraumatic play. This kind of play is a repetitive reenactment of the event
  • Thinking and talking about trauma outside of play
  • Being upset about reminders of the event.
  • Specific fears triggered by the event
  • Fantasies of revenge
  • Feeling guilty about the trauma and feeling responsible for it
  • Impaired concentration and difficulty learning
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headaches, stomach aches and other physical symptoms
  • Concerns about theirs and others safety
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawn behaviour

If you have an adolescent you might observe;

  • Detachment, shame guilt
  • Self conscious about their fears and intense feelings
  • Abrupt shifts in relationships
  • Desire for and plans to take revenge
  • Premature entrance into adulthood or reluctant to leave home
  • Being upset at reminders of the trauma and doing their best to avoid reminders
  • Coping behaviours that may include self-endangering behaviours such as substance abuse and/or cutting

I am sure you have observed these behaviours in children or teens. They may not be your own children and often when this behaviour is observed most being ask “what is wrong with that kid?” and the school system usually wants to label the child with a learning disability, but that is not helping the child. This is not a case of “what is wrong with that child?” it is a case of “what happened to that child?” We need to start changing the conversation around “troubled” children and start looking at what has happened in the past. What are they trying to tell us?

There are ways to help a traumatized child. For our infants, toddlers and preschoolers it is important for parents to stay close to their child. Kids of all ages need security, especially after trauma, but for our younger ones they will struggle to verbalize their trauma (if they can at all) and what they need. So staying close to your child gives them a sense of security. Help the child anticipate what will happen, give them choices. When trauma happens our sense of control in our life is rocked to the core. It is important to give that feeling of control back to the child. I will give you an example. Let’s say you ask your youngster to put away their toys and they refuse too. Instead of getting angry at them it is important to offer them a choice like, “Sarah you can put your toys away or you can go to your room for a time out.” This gives the child a choice without anger or a threat and they are then in control of what happens next. It is also important to name the child’s feelings and letting them know that feelings are good to feel. It is also important to give them reassurance as they need it and expect to do this over and over again. It is normal for children to need repeated reassurance.

For a school aged child it is important to listen to a child’s concerns and to answer questions truthfully and simply. Also let your child be close to you if they need you. They too will look to you for security. Reassure the child that they are safe. Also name their feelings and encourage them to express them through play or art. It is also important to help the child anticipate what will happen next in their life to help them feel in control and to give them choices. Like our younger children expect to do these things over and over.

For teens it is very similar to the younger children. With teen you will also want to give them choices, be close to you if they need to, encourage them to express their feelings through journaling, art, dance or writing poems and songs. Help them anticipate what happens next and provide an environment where your teen can talk about their concerns. Also expect to do these things over and over. Healing from trauma takes time, patience and hard work. There is no straight time line for healing trauma so basically it will take as long as it takes. Over time, as your child heals you will notice that the effects of trauma will lessen and the trauma will become a part of them. If  there are symptoms that you feel incapable of handling on your own it is always best to seek professional help. It is also important as a parent that you are supported. It is not easy to watch your child struggle and all of this can be a heavy load to carry so reach out to family and friends. If needed seek professional help for yourself to help you cope in healthy ways.

I have to say that my children have come a long way in the last eight years.  We no longer need to share a bed together. Outbursts and clingyness has been replaced with children who are getting to know who they are, are enjoying being with friends and can sleep without nightlights. I am extremely proud of each of them for all they have achieved in their recovery.  The good days happen more often than the bad now, but yes we still have struggling moments. Which is why last night when I held one of my children, as they sat on the bathroom floor and cried, I was not surprised that this was happening. I held them knowing that their pain still needs to come out and that is OK. I know that I do not have to solve this for them I just need to be there, to listen, hold them and let them know that they are safe and loved. I know that over time the impact of their trauma is lessening, one day at a time.

If you or your child needs extra help dealing with trauma I encourage you to speak to your doctor or seek out a therapist trained in trauma to help you through it. Until we meet again….

Peace,

Janet

PS. Kids Help Phone is available for any child in need. They can be reached at  1-800-668-6868

 

 

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Depression. It’s a tough battle

Depression. It sucks. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 350 million people worldwide battle depression. I am one of them.

I was first diagnosed with Clinical Depression back in the mid 90’s due to grief. My mother had been killed in a  car accident almost 10 years earlier and I had fallen into a deep depression. This had led to me feeling suicidal, but thankfully I found good support systems; a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist to get me through it all. I stayed on antidepressants for about five years and then, once I was feeling stable I weaned myself off the medication.

Life continued for me. I did not feel, what I call the “depression cloud”, looming over me. I got married, had three children, worked full time, bought a house, had a new vehicle so from the outside life looked pretty stable, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t the depression that was haunting me though it was that my marriage was abusive. For 15 years my ex husband abused me in various ways and in 2011 I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Deep Depressive Disorder.

A PTSD diagnosis can be given after you experience anything traumatic; a car crash, an assault, combat, abuse, or watching a sudden death to name a few things. With PTSD you can experience symptoms like flashbacks of the event, intrusive memories, heightened startle response, hypervigilance, avoidance, sleep disturbances such as night terrors and yes many also battle Deep Depressive Disorder as well.

Yuck.

Yes it is just plain yucky to battle both. Myself I take medication to manage all of my symptoms, I practice self care, I have a good support system and I have done counselling to keep me on track. For the most part my symptoms are pretty stable, except as of late. Lately I have felt a heaviness in my chest and a “weight” on my shoulders. I cry more. Privately. Quietly. And I do my best to put on that smile and appear ok to the outside world. I find myself depreciating myself too….looking at those around me with their busy lives thinking that I should not bother them with how I feel. I guess I have been isolating myself.

How wrong I am to do that.

In my training as a Trauma Therapist I know that depression is a part of trauma and I know from a professional level what I am supposed to do to fight the darkness. I am not supposed to isolate myself, I am supposed to reach out to supports and I am supposed to push myself out of bed every day, write if I need too, express my feelings in a healthy way, be in the sunshine and do some physical exercise, but let me just say……

I don’t want to.

Now no need for family and friends to worry. I am not in danger. I am not suicidal. I think I have just been overwhelmed by life. Recently our family had to move off of our farm and are staying with a friend while our new home is sorted. I have also had kids with health problems and in all honesty due to the move my horse, dog and cat, which all bring me peace, are not with me right now (I love animal therapy!). All of that has made things a bit harder and has caused me to struggle with my mental health. I get that. I see that, but still the crappy feelings are there.

I know that I will soldier on. As my dad said at my recent wedding; “Boy is she ever strong!” I know that I will make it through all of this. Just for now……well for now I will be gentle with me, do what I can to care for me and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Mental Illness. What a battle. Keep soldiering on everyone.

Till we meet again,

Peace

Janet R

PS. If you are battling depression or feeling suicidal please know that you are not alone.  There is support available at the 24/7 Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

If you are thinking of leaving your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan.  A Safety Plan helps you safely leave an abusive relationship.  Please check out this link;  http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-stop-abuse/safety-planning/  Scroll down the page it opens to download it for free.

Are you a Survivor needing  support? You can sign up for a Mentor, someone who has been there, and receive free support and guidance all via email, at :http://verbalabusejournals.com/mentoring-program-for-domestic-violence-survivors/mentor-request/

I love writing for free, but with three kids it can get tight.  So if you like what I write feel free to make a donation towards my work.  Please click on this Paypal link; PayPal.Me/JanetBrownlee to make your donation. Thanks!

 

Making our way through the muck

Tonight my middle child, my youngest daughter, made me cry. We were sitting around the supper table remembering when my youngest daughter and her brother first met my husband. We talked about their first reactions and we laughed about them. As we cleared the table my daughter said, “You know mum I remember that I wasn’t very nice to you (at that time). I feel bad about that and I am sorry how I treated you back then.” I gave her a hug and told her how she was but a young child then and she was going through a lot; her father and I had split up and he had been abusive to all of us. I told her that I bared a lot from all three of my children at that time, but I had big shoulders and took it because I knew they were hurting. We hugged and she said she was sorry and that she loved me. I am grateful for her apology.

The time period my daughter is referring to is back in 2011. She was six years old, my son was four, and my oldest daughter was six years old. It had been a turbulent time with my ex and I separating the previous year. My children saw their father on weekends. Weekends where they were still being abused (unbeknownst to me, but I had my suspicions) and I was struggling with symptoms of undiagnosed PTSD. It was a difficult time so it was natural that as young children that they would act out. There was wetting of beds, soiling of pants, and nightmares as reactions to the trauma they endured. There was also verbal back lashing, not listening to me, some name calling, along with hitting and kicking of me. All actions they had observed their father do and in their frustration, pain, and confusion they exhibited the same actions. Yes, it was a difficult time.

I think it is important to remember that with a survivor of domestic abuse they are often not only facing pain caused by their partner, but at times by their own children. It’s a double edged sword. Often the abuser will undermine the survivor’s relationship with their children. They will blame the abuse on the survivor and tell the children what a poor parent the survivor is. Often, my ex would tell my children how stupid I was in my hearing. I can only imagine what was said out of my hearing. This is one more form of abuse directed on the survivor and on the children. Abusers know that by using the children against the survivor they are able to truly break the survivor down. Often, the children are brainwashed against the survivor by the abusive parent. As a result, some children turn away from that survivor parent. It is a heartbreaking fact in domestic abuse.

I love my children. I always have and I always will. I fought hard in our legal system to gain full custody of them to protect them from further abuse. There have been many times where I have had to have “big shoulders” and bared their backlash. Backlash that often should be directed to my ex, but he is not here and I am. I take it because I know it all needs to get out in the open and that helps my children heal. It is not an easy road. I will admit that. I have cried many tears as a result. It is all worth it though when I see a smile on their face or receive a hug or cuddle telling me they love me. I know that they too are working their way through the “muck” of having lived in an abusive family. I am glad to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I saw it tonight in a simple “I am sorry.”

Peace,

Janet

Christmas Anxiety

To say that this Christmas season has been easy for me would be a lie, it hasn’t been. It is not because I don’t like Christmas either, because I love the Christmas season. I love celebrating the birth of Christ, all the lights, the carols and time with family and friends. It is a lovely time of year. So why has it not been easy for me? Anxiety.

Anxiety is a disorder that cripples many. I am one of them. I was diagnosed with PTSD back in 2011 and with PTSD comes anxiety. A lot of the time I am able to cope with it. I know all the breathing exercises to calm myself. I know how to do positive self talk. In fact I am a person who often helps others with their anxiety so you would think I have this all cased wouldn’t you? Well I don’t. I have shed tears in my vehicle after shopping in a mall. I have suffered a full out anxiety attack while decorating our Christmas tree and I have had moments where I just crawl under the blankets and seek silence. To be blunt it sucks.

I know why I am suffering. Christmas was always a time when my ex husband was more abusive. He would yell more and would make sure I knew what a chore it was to shop for me. Everyone else’s gifts would be planned out weeks in advance whereas mine would be last minute. He would make sure I knew that he was only buying me something because it would look bad in front of everyone else if he did not. He crushed my self worth every Christmas. I understand that those memories go deep so of course when December rolls around I am not surprised if I am triggered and on edge.

What am I doing to cope? Well I am happy to say I was remarried this last fall to a wonderful man who loves me deeply. He has been my rock during this anxiety ridden time. He holds me when I cry or when my whole being is shaking with anxiety. We talk about what I am feeling or sometimes we just sit in silence. I also pray. I am a strong Christian believer so I have had many “chats” with God praying for peace and strength and I am also looking for the positives in every day, even if it is a small thing like going out for a walk on our farm in the snow and sunshine.

If you are also struggling this Christmas my thoughts are with you. Please know that you are not alone. I too am taking it all one moment at a time. Breathe and take care of you. Merry Christmas.

 

Janet

 

The Day I went on Trial

Just over two years ago I went on trial for my ex sexually assaulting me continually in the last 9 months of our marriage.  Yes I was on trial, or at least that is how it played out in Court.  My words and my actions were scrutinized under a microscope for all to see while my ex sat there.

The last nine months of my marriage were the worst.  I had stood up to my abusive ex and told him he was no longer welcome in our marriage bed, that our marriage was over. He said he had no place to go so he moved into our family room in the basement. It was then that I kept catching in him, in his underwear, in my youngest daughters bed.  My gut told me that this was beyond wrong so with everything in me I stood up to him and told him again, No More! No more sleeping in our daughters bed. He exploded and started yelling at me. I shook like a leaf inside, but held my ground on the outside.  I looked him firmly in the eyes and said, “No More.”

The next day he came up to my room in the early morning hours and raped me. This continued weekly over the next nine months. I lived in terror and was barely coping on the inside, but on the outside I did my best to still be a mom, go to work and quietly figure out how I was going to get out of this marriage safely.  I led a double life. In front of my ex I was complacent, unless I saw him hurt one of our children, then something would break in me and I would become so protective, telling him to go away, to leave us alone, but he wouldn’t leave. So I continued to play the good wife on the outside, making supper, getting kids to daycare and going to my job. I could no longer sleep and I could no longer eat. I lost so much weight. Soon there was nothing left of me.

Then one night it was over.  He admitted to the rapes.  He stood at the sink doing the dishes before his aunt and uncle came over.  He admitted that he knew exactly what he was doing to me, that he knew he was hurting me.  Up until that point, I believe to protect my own sanity, I had somehow believed that he did not know what he was doing, that he was “out of control” with his actions and that he really did not mean to hurt me this way.  That night though, that night that bubble burst and I started to scream blood curdling screams that it was over. All over. The next day he moved out.

After he left I pushed all he had done way down deep inside of me.  I had to focus on my kids. I had to help them heal. So I took them to counselling appointments, I met with teachers and I just kept going.  My pain, to me, was irrelevant.  I would deal with it someday but today was not the day.

I lived that way for two years.  I even did my own one on one counselling and went to group therapy but I could not get the words out of my mouth that he had raped me over and over.  Then one day I did, near the end of a group therapy session, I looked at the ceiling, then at the floor, but not at anyone’s face and I shared that my ex had raped me many times.  I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me.  The pain was just too much. The group listened and was supportive and they encouraged me to go forward to the Police.  I let that idea sit with me.  I had been through the Court system before when he physically assaulted myself and our toddler son. Could I handle going through that again? This would be so much more personal? Could I do it? Then one day a calm came over me and I knew that I had to come forward.  So I did and my ex was arrested.

The next few years involved Court delays, done by my ex, but eventually we did have a hearing.  I testified for six hours.  I was so exhausted, but overall it went ok.  The Defense tried to trip me up, but I stayed on course. I was prepared for the fact that they would play games and I held my head high.  The Defence even had my ex sit in a seat where I had to walk past him to get to the stand.  I actually had to step over his feet and I knew this was done just to try and intimidate me.  I did not let this falter me and I told the truth of what happened.  Per the Judge there was enough evidence to go to Trial. A date was set and a year later the Trial began.

I arrived at the Court House with my now husband.  We went through security and then saw on the notice boards that our Court room was upstairs.  The Defense had decided to go with a Jury Trial. I was warned ahead of time that the Court House would be busy with many people being called to possibly be on the Jury.  We came up the stairs and across the room I saw him; my ex, his mother and another woman whom I assumed (and was later confirmed) was his girlfriend.  There were at least 30-40 people waiting to go through Jury selection.  I found my Victims Services Worker and was shown into a room. The room had windows to the hallway. As everyone was called into the Court room his girlfriend walked by and glared at me. I held her gaze, I had no intention to be intimidated when I knew I was telling the truth.  I waited in the small room, as a witness to the crime I was not allowed to be in the room when Jury selection was going on, but he being the one on trial had the right to be there for every process.

It did not take long and soon a Jury was chosen.  I was told that I would be called in soon. I took a deep breath and when I was called I walked into the Court room with my head held high.  Again I had to walk right past him, this time he was in a separate box so there was no stepping over feet, but he was right there as I walked past.  I also walked right past his mother and his girlfriend. My support was seated on the other side of the Court room.  The Defense Lawyer and the Prosecutor both stood at their respective tables. Soon we all rose and the Judge came in.  He then had the Jury stand.  I looked at all of them. Soon the Jury was dismissed and I was too.

Soon I was called back into the Court room and again I had to walk past my ex.  As I got up on the stand I noticed he was not wearing his false teeth and he was slouching as he sat, looking very meek and sad.  Very different from who he really is. He is really over 6ft and broad shoulders.  I assumed this meek posture was a tactic suggested by the Defense to make him look weaker to the Jury rather than the predator I knew he could be.  I wanted to scream that his appearance was a lie, that this was all just part of the game to get him off on the charges! Could I say that? I was really only there to answer questions, correct?

I was on the stand for two days. First the Prosecutor questioned me.  He had slightly prepared me for his questions.  I calmly relayed what had happened the first time he raped me.  That he had come running up the stairs in early morning, that I thought he was going out on a call as a First Responder because he sounded to be in such a rush.  Instead though he came running into our room, locked the door, lay on top of me and forced himself on me.  I told how I couldn’t scream because I was in so much shock that this was actually happening.  My own husband, the one who was to protect me was hurting me in the one of the worst ways possible. I went numb. When it was over he sat on the end of the bed and called me horrible names, like Whore, Bitch and Slut.  Again I was in too much shock to move or speak.  Then I heard our toddler son get up across the hall and that seemed to snap me back to reality.  I did not want my children to know what had happened, I wanted everything to be as normal as possible.  I think there was a huge amount of disbelief from me that this had actually happened.  Instead, like so many who go into shock I did something random and normal, I got up and made breakfast for my children.  Doing any different would have shattered me at that moment.

Then it was the Defenses turn.  He reviewed the details with me and I stayed alert to the fact I knew he would try to trip me up. I was determined to not let that happen.  He asked me what I was wearing when my ex entered the bedroom.  I knew that what I was wearing had absolutely nothing to do with why he raped me so I responded that he was wearing only his underwear.  Since him raping me happened more than once in the early hours he questioned me over and over why I did not lock the bedroom door.  I explained that I was afraid of him and so were my children and I was not going to lock my children out of my room which was a safe place for them.  I took the risk of being hurt again, but I wanted to be able to protect my children if they needed me. That wasn’t enough though, over and over the Defense asked me why I did not lock the bedroom door.  It was clear victim blaming, that somehow I was at fault for him raping me because I did not lock the bedroom door.  I was grilled as to why it took me two years to report the rapes.  That I must be making it up because if it had really happened then I would have sought help right away.  Again victim blaming with no explanation on how trauma works, given to the Jury.  In fact the Prosecutor did not bring any other witnesses forward.  No Professionals to explain how a rape Survivor can react, no education and none of the Professionals that had been treating me. I did my best to explain trauma, that sometimes something is so painful that we push it away to cope and when our whole being believes we are strong enough to deal with it we will talk about it.  I explained how the first two years were just about getting my kids through each day. Somehow that was not enough.  The Defense twisted things and said I waited two years because I was in the middle of Family Law proceedings trying to gain sole custody of my kids.  That I went to the Police about these made up assaults to make it that my ex would have no access to the kids while these charges were sorted out.  In reality I came forward when I was ready having no idea ahead of time how that would affect his visitation. Again though I was spun to be a vindictive ex wife to the Jury.  Then the Defense brought forth their knowledge of my blogs and said I only wrote it to continue to be a victim. The Defense even tried finishing his questioning by saying “I am Janet, I am victim hear me Roar!” I responded, “No I am Janet, I am a Survivor!”

I was grilled about everything I had done or said since my ex and I separated.  My character was put on trial. Unfortunately I later learned that this is very common in Sexual Assault Trials, the victim is put on trial for what they did and the perpetrator is barely looked at. It was that case as well. When it was time for my ex to go on the stand he was on it for about 10 minutes. He was asked what our marriage was like.  He responded that our marriage was that “what Janet wanted Janet got”.  Up to that point I had had my head down so that I did not have to look at him, but when he said that my head shot up and we locked eyes for just a moment.  I looked at him with a look telling him that I knew he was lying.  That our marriage was anything but that.  That there had been so many times I wanted to socialize with friends, have people over or go out with him, but there was always an excuse, a reason why I had to stay home.   That I was not allowed to go out anywhere, that I was isolated. He knew he was lying too because when we locked eyes he quickly looked to the ground in defeat. He was maybe asked 5 questions, whereas I was on the stand for two days. Does that seem right? He was the one who committed the crimes yet he was barely examined.

There are so many short falls in our Court System.  I quickly learned that it is a Legal System to carry out laws, not a Justice System.  There was no Justice in what I went through. Sadly this is the case for so many in a Sexual Assault Trial. I felt completely unprepared for what was going to happen to me in that Court Room. The only warning that the Prosecutor gave me was that the Defence may not be nice, but it is not personal, they are just there to do a job. I was not prepared for the trauma the Defence would cause with their insinuations that I was the abusive one and that I was a liar. I wasn’t prepared for the Defence to laugh to themselves, almost patting themselves on the back for their latest dig to me, when their back was turned to the jury. I was prepared for the Judge to watch all of this and say nothing. I was prepared to feel abandoned by our Legal System.

In the end the verdict came back as “Not Guilty”. The Judge said, as I cried, that it was not a case where I was not believed, but that there was just not enough evidence. Being it was a sexual assault it was a “He said, She said” case given there were no witnesses.

That night I had a complete breakdown. My husband and I went to a lounge to debrief. I tried to relax, but could not. After we left my husband had to stop in at a Convenience Store. I sat in our car and waited listening to music. It was then that I cracked; I cranked the music and sobbed uncontrollably. All of the pain came out, the betrayal that I felt by the Courts and by his family for not standing by me when I told the truth. Truth about the long time abuse in our home. Things that they saw or heard. I was crushed.

The trial is still hard to think about, but it no longer weighs on me like it did. There are times where intimacy still frightens me, but I have a loving husband now who is patient and kind. And sometimes I still sleep at night with a pile of clothes on just to feel safe and I lay in the fetal position with my arms crossed across my chest just to “protect” myself. It is what I need to do to get through the tough moments.

I hope, that in time, our Justice system will change in regard to Sexual Assaults. The victim should never be the one on trial. Their actions pre and post a rape should not be used as evidence as to whether the assault took place. The perpetrators actions are the ones that need to be scrutinized. They need to be the ones being questioned for two days, not for five minutes. Only then, I think, will we start to see more appropriate verdicts in sexual assaults trials. Until then my heart goes out to every sexual assault victim.

Peace,

Janet

 

 

 

 

Are you always going to pick an abuser?

As a newly remarried woman I have definitely had this question cross my mind; just because my first marriage was abusive does that mean my second one will be too? It’s a heavy question and an important question for anyone to ask, especially if they have already been in an abusive relationship.

Abusive relationships are usually classified as co dependent relationships. Co dependency is defined as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner. They are usually with someone who has a drug addiction, alcohol problem, mental health issues or a gambling addiction to name a few. Co dependent relationships are not healthy because you find yourself dependent on this unhealthy person for approval. My first marriage was a co dependent relationship. Everything revolved around him and his needs and I was only happy if he was happy. I lost myself.

When I met my present husband I know that others around me worried that maybe I had picked another abusive man. Could they trust my judgment? Had I healed enough to recognize when I was being abused  and would I be strong enough to walk away if I was. Those around me “held their breath” for awhile.

I held my breath too. Would I be blind to the abuse if it happened again? Was I destined to only pick abusers? I no longer trusted my judgement after years of seeing my ex be nice in public and abusive behind closed doors. I found I had to ask myself, “did I want to be alone or should I take a deep breath and trust this new man in my life?” I decided to trust. It was not easy, but I am glad I put myself out there and trusted him and myself. It was a huge step forward for me.

I am happy to report that my second marriage is not abusive. We communicate well, we respect each others feelings and I do not have that “knot of dread” in my stomach that I had in my first marriage; walking on eggshells waiting for the abuse to happen. Instead I am calm and I feel safe. I will tell you though that we have analyzed our relationship to death to make sure we are not abusing each other. I have PTSD from the abuse in my first marriage so there are times I get triggered by a word or a gesture he does. I end up reacting how I wished I had in my first marriage. I get angry.  It’s not fair to anyone, not myself, my husband or the kids if they see it. We are quick though, once I am grounded, to explain what has happened, to talk about it and I apologize. We work through it. That would not happen in an abusive relationship.  Sometimes he gets triggered by me. He was abused in his childhood and was in an emotionally abusive first marriage so he too has his demons. His reaction is to yell. Again we have recognized that and we talk through it and he takes responsibility. Abusers never take responsibility. In fact they blame everyone else, especially their victim and they never talk about their feelings or want to hear about yours.   We have also recently made a rule in our house that there is no yelling and if you do yell you get to go outside and run/walk a lap around our farm yard to cool off. This is working well. This is not abuse. This is two people who came from abuse who are recognizing their triggers and working around them. Our younger kids are understanding this as well.

Perhaps it is good to point out what is an abusive relationship in case you are questioning your relationship. Some key signs of an abusive relationship are;

1. Your partner ignores and minimizes your feelings.

2. Constantly criticizing, insulting and calling you names.

3. Humiliating you in public and/or private.

4. Refusing to help you when you are sick or hurt.

5. Controlling all the money or creating debts in your name.

6. Isolating you from your family or friends.

7. Controlling where you are and what you do.

8. Checking up on you constantly.

9. Blaming you for the abuse that happens.

10. Playing mind games.

11. Threatening to hurt you, take your children, harm your family or hurt you with a weapon.

12. Pushing, shoving, throwing objects at you.

13. Hitting, choking, punching, biting, slapping or kicking you.

14. Forcing you to have sex or making you do something sexual you are not comfortable with.

If you are experiencing any of these in your relationship I urge you to tell someone and start building your support system. I know that it is scary to speak up but you do deserve a life free of abuse. No one has the right to abuse you. No one.

My word of advice; if you are in a relationship after being abused and you wonder, will I be abused again? Take a look at the above list. Is that happening? There will be arguments in your relationship, that is normal, but is there violence? Also listen to you inner voice, your gut instinct. What is it saying? You know best what type of relationship you are in, listen to that voice. Trust yourself.

There is a long road of recovery following any abusive relationship. I am sure my husband and I will battle our past relationships for some time to come, but the important thing is we do not give up. We are committed to work through each hurdle, to apologize, to listen, to respect each other and above all else to love each other. I am here to say it is possible to have a healthy relationship following abuse. I am grateful for the opportunity to have one.

If you are being abused please know there is help available. If needed you can always call 911 or your local police department. In the USA you can also call the National Domestic Hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233 (SAFE) for support. In Canada you can find a local hotline number by looking through the Hot Peach Pages at http://www.hotpeachpages.net/canada or Internationally at http://www.hotpeachpages.net

Be safe and be well,

Janet

My Journey through Domestic Violence

Life is a journey. We are born small and helpless and grow up to adults. Along the way we learn to walk and then run. We have pit falls and victories. All are a part of our journey through life and each experience shapes us into the person we are today.

My journey started like many others. I was born to a mother and father. I went to school, made friends and lost friends. I had my first date and graduated from high school. All normal steps in this journey called life.   One day I stepped out into the world on my own. I was eager to take on new adventures as a young adult. The world was my oyster.

While I explored who I was as a young woman I met a young man. He was tall, dark and handsome and I fell for him immediately. We started to date and soon fell in love. Life was good.

Then one day I noticed something. I noticed that sometimes he talked to me differently than he did others. He was short with his words, cold in his demeanour and none of it made me feel good.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was going on so I put it down to him having a bad day.

Time went on and we moved in together. I was ecstatic! Our journey together had taken a new turn. We were committed and I wondered if one day wedding bells would be a part of our journey.

Then I hit a roadblock. Suddenly he yelled at me more, he threw things and glared at me for no reason. I tried to make things better. I thought if I loved him more his anger would go away, but that didn’t work. One day he crushed my fingers in a door. He said it was because I wasn’t listening.

But I was listening. I just didn’t want onions in my omelet. I didn’t understand.

I cried.

Secretly.

I lied when people saw my injury.

I felt so much shame.

This wasn’t what love was supposed to be like.

I believed him when he said it wouldn’t happen again.

It wouldn’t, right?

Soon we bought a house and then our journey did bring those wedding bells and babies soon followed. I loved him. I believed in him and thought it would all be ok.

But it wasn’t.

I was pushed into walls, horrible names were screamed at me, I was forced to have sex, had chairs and tools thrown at me and pushed down a flight of stairs when I was pregnant.  My hair was falling out and my weight was dropping at an alarming rate. I was dying inside.  My breaking point was when he started to hurt my children.  My girls were emotionally, verbally and mentally abused.  My son was physically abused from 16months old on.

I knew I had to get out. I tried many times to kick him out, but he kept coming back.  I was drowning. I, like a billion women before me, did not know how to break free.

Breaking free from Domestic Violence is not easy to do.  I found it to be the hardest part of my journey.   Abusive people are not abusive from the beginning of a relationship. They are often charming and attentive.   The abuse is slow and insidious and you don’t even really know it is happening until you are in the thick of a beating. Your self esteem is battered and you fell so much shame by the time you realise you need to leave. Abusers have you believing the abuse is your fault.  You think no one will believe you because he or she is nice in public.  It’s behind closed doors when they hurt you. They isolate you from family and friends so you feel you have no one to turn to for help.  Over 90% of Survivors face financial hurdles when trying to leave.  Either funds are withheld from them, or debts are created in their name.  Often a Survivor faces homelessness if they leave.  Abusers are also very manipulative and will make promises to change.  Survivors believe their abuser and wishfully think that this time it will be different. This time they will have the partner they had in the beginning of the relationship.  The thing is that person was just wearing a mask.  They are not really charming and sweet.  They only wear that mask to keep you in the cycle. That mask will always slip and the abuse will start again. On average a woman will leave 7 times before the relationship is finally over.  It takes strength and a good support system to break free from an abusive relationship. It took time and careful planning, but I did break free in the end.   I built a support system of friends, family and Professionals and I created a Safety Plan (scroll to the bottom of this link http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-to-stop-abuse/safety-planning for a plan).

I now live a life free of abuse which is such a blessing. I can laugh again. I have gained my weight back and my hair no longer falling out.  There are  still tough days but I no longer fear for my life on a daily basis.  A few years ago I started working with other Survivors of Domestic Violence.  I realized that the specifics may be different for each of us, but we are all on the same journey.  Having someone else walking with you, someone who can validate what you are going through, is so important to healing.  I  supervise a Survivor Mentor Program through an online organization called Verbal Abuse Journals (verbalabusejournals.com).  I match Mentors (women who have been there) with male or female Survivors of abuse who are either still in the relationship or have just left.  It is a free service and they communicate via email for as long as the Survivor needs.  It is rewarding work and I am happy to reach out to every Survivor I meet.  Abusers isolate you and make you feel worthless. You think no one cares.  Through my work I want all Survivors to know they are not alone, that someone does care and support is available.

About Janet

Survivor Mentor Supervisor at Verbal Abuse Journals https://www.verbalabusejournals.com

facebook, where I share my journey: Freedom Within: My Journey through Domestic Violence & PTSD https://facebook.com/fw.dvptsd.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/within_freedom

Pinterest: Freedom Within

Linkedln: Janet Rhodes

If you are thinking of leaving your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan.  A Safety Plan helps you safely leave an abusive relationship.  Please check out this link;  http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-stop-abuse/safety-planning/  Scroll down the page it opens to download it for free.

Are you a Survivor needing  support? You can sign up for a Mentor, someone who has been there, and receive free support and guidance all via email, at :http://verbalabusejournals.com/mentoring-program-for-domestic-violence-survivors/mentor-request/

I love writing for free, but with three kids it can get tight.  So if you like what I write feel free to make a donation towards my work.  Please click on this Paypal link; PayPal.Me/JanetBrownlee to make your donation. Thanks!

My Monster

PTSD is a monster. It is my monster.
A couple of days ago I had a rough day. My PTSD flared.

PTSD is a monster. It is my monster.

A couple of days ago I had a rough day. My PTSD flared.

We are in the middle of renovating our farmhouse so there are tools and other renovating mess laying around. A workable mess, but still a mess. My husband became overwhelmed by it all. He is a person who functions best when there is order. Everything should have its place and a mess, to him, equals chaos. He started to complain, not in a mean way, more in a frustrated way.

This complaining triggered me.

Normally I can read my husbands anxiety and counter it with calmness, but at this particular moment that was not the case. I became triggered and started to yell.

In my first marriage, my abusive ex would nit pic about how clean the house was. In his eyes it was never clean enough. Often he would mumble how we lived in a dumb. This hurt me. I worked hard with three young kids and working full time outside of the home, to keep our home clean. It was lived in, but not a dump. The insanity around it all climaxed in the last year of our marriage where I was thinking I should clean 24/7 just to keep him happy. When he was not happy abuse happened. Names were called, hits happened and I did everything in my power to prevent that. I would avoid joining my family for an evening in front of the TV because I felt I should be taking that time to make sure everything was clean. I became obsessive about it.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but my ex’s constant complaining kept me under his control. My days revolved around keeping the house in order to keep him happy in fear of being abused. I did not go out with friends, I did not allow myself time with my children or any time for me. I lost myself and it was all about keeping him happy. The thing is I could have stayed up cleaning 24/7 and it still would not have been enough. It was never about the cleaning. It was all about controlling me. Control is what every abusive relationship is about. One person is wanting control over another.

Back to the present day. Hearing my new husband complain about the renovation chaos in our house triggered me. I fell back into my old way of thinking and took total responsibility for the mess, I felt that somehow I had to solve this to keep him happy. My head began to swim and I started to yell. I freaked out and said I would never be anyone’s slave again! Flashbacks of past abuse hit me and I cried uncontrollably.

It took many tears and a long talk with my husband to come back to the present. It was hard on us both. He did not understand why I was yelling and I felt like I was trapped in the past. Thankfully we worked through this bump. We always do. I am so grateful for that. It’s hard though and so exhausting.

PTSD is my monster. It often sleeps for me now. Sometimes it wakes and when it does it roars. I dread it. What helps? Self care, tons and tons of self care, reminding myself that I am loved and that I am safe now. Talk with someone you love, talk through those flashbacks, meditate and if needed seek professional help to learn more coping skills. Healing is possible, but it takes time. Time, love and patience not only from yourself, but from those around you. Till next time

Peace,

Janet

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If you are thinking of leaving your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan.  A Safety Plan helps you safely leave an abusive relationship.  Please check out this link;  http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-stop-abuse/safety-planning/  Scroll down the page it opens to download it for free.

Are you a Survivor needing  support? You can sign up for a Mentor, someone who has been there, and receive free support and guidance all via email, at :http://verbalabusejournals.com/mentoring-program-for-domestic-violence-survivors/mentor-request/

I love writing for free, but with three kids it can get tight.  So if you like what I write feel free to make a donation towards my work.  Please click on this Paypal link; PayPal.Me/JanetBrownlee to make your donation. Thanks!

 

Finding my Happily Ever After

Recently I married my first love. It was a beautiful day. One I will cherish forever. Yet after such a lovely event I find the ghosts of the past are still whispering in my house.

Recently I married my first love, my high school sweetheart, my soul mate. It was beautiful day. More than I could have dreamed! We were surrounded by those we love while we exchanged those precious vows before God. It was a blessed day and one I will never forget.  After such a wonderful event though I find there are still whispers in our house. Whispers from my previous life. Whispers from my abusive marriage. Whispers that say, “You aren’t good enough”, “You will fail” and “I am hurting.” Some are things I hear, some are struggles my youngest daughter is having.

My youngest daughter was diagnosed with PTSD almost seven years ago, she was six years old at the time. At that time I was just leaving her father who had abused her and the rest of our family. She struggled as a little mite with nightmares, anxiety, detaching and going catatonic, wetting her bed and terrified that her father was going to come and kill her. It was a horrible time in our life, but we got through it. We did counselling with some amazing Child Counsellors and Child Psychiatrists. My daughter was put on medication to calm her at night and some to help her focus during the day. We talked and talked about her feelings and turned many positive corners. After awhile her PTSD went into remission and life for her was peaceful. Now though, PTSD has reared it’s ugly head again and her pain is reoccurring. Night terrors grip her and sadness has overtaken her. It breaks my heart as her mum.

I have learned, with PTSD and abuse, that the effects are long lasting. Just when you think you have PTSD licked it will reappear. A sight, a sound or a smell may trigger you and the past comes back. It overpowers you and cripples you and you have to fight all over again to get your feet back under you. Over time I have learned coping mechanisms to help with these set backs; self care, gentleness, self love, meditation, quiet time of self reflection, writing and just being around those I love are all things that have helped me. At this time, I am trying to share those coping skills with my daughter. Letting her know that she is loved, she is safe and that we will get through this together. It’s definitely not easy to watch her go through this. Watching any of my children struggle with what my ex did has been difficult. I keep fighting though, for them and for me because……well because we are all worth it.

As I find my happily ever after I am reminded that the “ghosts” of the past will pop up.  The blessing is, is that I have my new husband is beside me fighting them. Fighting for me and for my, our daughter now. All we can do is keep fighting. We will get through this difficult time like we always have with love, patience and understanding. Until next time….

Peace,

Janet

If you are thinking of leaving your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan.  A Safety Plan helps you safely leave an abusive relationship.  Please check out this link;  http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-stop-abuse/safety-planning/  Scroll down the page it opens to download it for free.

Are you a Survivor needing  support? You can sign up for a Mentor, someone who has been there, and receive free support and guidance all via email, at :http://verbalabusejournals.com/mentoring-program-for-domestic-violence-survivors/mentor-request/

I love writing for free, but with three kids it can get tight.  So if you like what I write feel free to make a donation towards my work.  Please click on this Paypal link; PayPal.Me/JanetBrownlee to make your donation. Thanks!

 

I’m Free

This is a journey that changed me on every level. I am stronger now, wiser and confidence is abounding from me every day. I have found peace.

“This is a disturbing case of violence against a woman and her children occurring over the course of a 13 year relationship.  The three children of the relationship witnessed being physically assaulted and humiliated by there father. The youngest child was subjected to physical abuse starting at the age of 16 months. The father desires access with the children.  He will have no access”

– Judge J. Wilson

31 days ago I received the best Mothers Day present ever! I received the Judgement on my Divorce & Custody Trial.  Just over a year ago I went back to Court for the final time.  It was to have my divorce granted and for the Judge to decide on the custody of my three beautiful children.  My now ex husband decided not to participate in the trial.  We waited over an hour for him to appear, called what contact numbers the Court had  with no answer. So the Court proceeded.   At the end of the first day he called the Court room and spoke to the clerk.  He said he would not be attending the trial, that he had to work and he was refusing to participate in this trial. The Clerk told him that we would then proceed without him.  Over three days Expert Witnesses were brought forward; our long time Family Doctor, my children’s Counsellor and the Custody & Access Assessor. All testified to the mental health of the children, what they had endured while with their father and since as they have been recovering.  I also testified, giving light to what it was like in our abusive home. How I was abused when pregnant, physically assaulted  & humiliated in front of the children. I told her how my son had been physically abused by my ex starting at the young age of 16 months. The Judge heard how most of us have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the abuse.  Judge J Wilson concluded that due to the extreme level of violence in my marriage that having the children in the presence of their father again would be damaging to their health and well being. She feared for their safety.    In a country where Joint Custody is normally granted , even when there has been abuse, the best we have had to hope for was supervised visits, but Judge J Wilson broke new ground.  I was awarded sole custody and he will not be granted any access and I have been granted a lifetime restraining order against him. We. Are. Finally. Safe. ❤

Yesterday was my last day as Mrs G. My ex had also received the Judgement and had contested nothing so it was the end and a day of reflection for me.  I married him with so much love, but there was also so much denial.  There were red flags that I ignored.  I believed we would love each other enough and it would be ok.  Every one said I was so amazing for him, that I was the best thing that ever happened to him so how could we not be ok? But we weren’t. Past blogs will tell you that. It was a marriage full of violence, fear and pain. These are all things that I can now leave behind me.  I can finally close that door and live a new peaceful life with my children and my fiancé.

I have had some amazing people support me on this journey. Family, friends and many Professionals. People who supported me when I wanted to give up, who listened and cheered me on whenever I faced another Court date.  I am so grateful for each and everyone of them.

This is a journey that changed me on every level.  I am stronger now, wiser and confidence is abounding from me every day.  I have found peace.  A friend shared a song with me yesterday called “Free” by Jann Arden  It is so fitting.  I am finally free. I leave you with this song.  Peace be with you.

Janet

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If you are thinking of leaving your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan.  A Safety Plan helps you safely leave an abusive relationship.  Please check out this link;  http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-stop-abuse/safety-planning/  Scroll down the page it opens to download it for free.

Are you a Survivor needing  support? You can sign up for a Mentor, someone who has been there, and receive free support and guidance all via email, at :http://verbalabusejournals.com/mentoring-program-for-domestic-violence-survivors/mentor-request/

I love writing for free, but with three kids it can get tight.  So if you like what I write feel free to make a donation towards my work.  Please click on this Paypal link; PayPal.Me/JanetBrownlee to make your donation. Thanks!